1 March 2016

Zimbabwe: HIV Self-Testing Pilot Project Begins This Month

Government will this month roll out the HIV self-testing pilot project in 12 districts across the country in a move meant to reach out to 375 000 Zimbabweans over the next two years, a senior Government official said yesterday.

Addressing journalists at a media symposium organised by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) in Harare yesterday, HIV testing and counselling coordinator in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Mrs Getrude Ncube, said the protocol for the pilot had since been approved.

"So far we have done accurate studies in Harare and Shamva and we have realised that people from Shamva (a rural setting) did not understand the instructions, so we tried to simplify them again including diagrams on how to conduct the self-testing.

"We have even made Shona translations and we are in the process of coming up with Ndebele translations on the instruction sheet," said Mrs Ncube.

She said once this process was completed, Government looked forward to rolling out the pilot study to the rest of the country, starting with 12 selected districts this month.

She said only individuals above 16 years would be permitted to collect the self test kits.

Mrs Ncube said the purpose of the first phase of the pilot project was to ascertain the acceptability and feasibility of self-testing by Zimbabweans.

"Self-testing is meant to normalise HIV testing, provide early diagnosis of HIV and provide greater convenience," she said.

Sponsored by Unitaid to the tune of about $23 million, the study known as HIV Self-Testing in Africa (STAR) will be run in three other countries, namely South Africa, Malawi and Zambia.

The pilot project was launched last year during the 18th International Conference on Aids and STIs (ICASA) in Africa, which was held here in Zimbabwe.

According to manufacturers of the self-testing kits, which will be used in the pilot project, the device was effective and easy to use.

According to instructions on the device, one needs to get a swab of the lower and upper gum once to get a fluid sample.

The sample is then inserted into a vial containing buffer solution for between 20 and 40 minutes.

The results will be ready thereafter.

ZLHR programme manager for HIV and Aids, human rights and law project Mr Tinashe Mundawarara said his organisation welcomed the project because it promoted public health goals.

"We believe the HIV self-testing will go a long way in addressing the public health challenges existing in the health delivery system and promotes public health goals," he said.

Statistics from the Ministry of Health and Child Care show that an estimated 1,2 million people are living with HIV in Zimbabwe but only 66 percent of them know their HIV status.

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